RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1880. The Omori shell mounds. Nature. A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science 21 (15 April): 561.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, text prepared and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8. RN4

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[page] 561

The Omori Shell Mounds

I HAVE received the enclosed letter from Prof. Morse,1 with a request that I should forward it to you. I hope that it may be published, for the article in NATURE2 to which it refers seemed to me to do very scant justice to Prof. Morse's work.3 I refer more especially to the evidence adduced by him on cannibalism by the ancient inhabitants of Japan—on their platycnemic tibiæ4—on their degree of skill in ceramic art—and beyond all other points, on the changes in the molluscan fauna of the islands since the period in question.

It is a remarkable fact, which incidentally appears in Prof. Morse's memoir, that several Japanese gentlemen have already formed large collections of the shells of the Archipelago, and have zealously aided him in the investigation of the prehistoric mounds. This is a most encouraging omen of the future progress of science in Japan.5


Down, Beckenham, Kent, April 9

IN NATURE, vol. xxi. p. 350, is a review of my memoir on "The Omori Shell Mounds" by Fredk. V. Dickins. I do not now heed the spirit in which it is written, nor would I deem it worthy of notice did it not occur in the pages of your widely-read magazine. One expects in a reviewer some knowledge of the subject he reviews. Mr. Dickins, by a series of mistakes, betrays his ignorance of the whole matter. The extraordinary blunder he makes regarding the Ainos has already been promptly corrected by a Japanese gentleman residing in London. It is charitable to assume that Mr. Dickins has not lived in Japan, otherwise he would not, in common with so many of his countrymen, commit the wilful blunder of calling the principal city of the empire by its wrong name. On the other hand, it is impossible he could have seen the Omori deposits, otherwise he would not make another blunder by expressing his belief that they have been completely swept away, when in truth but a small portion, of them have been removed. He says: "These mounds consist for the most part of shells, little, if at all, distinguishable from what are still found in abundance along the shores of the Gulf of Yedo." Had he taken the trouble to read the memoir he attempted to review he would have seen that all the species occurring in the mounds vary in size, proportion of part, and relative abundance of individuals from similar species living along the shores to-day. That some species extremely abundant in the mounds are scarcely met within the vicinity, while one species has never been found within 400 miles Omori; indeed, it belongs to a different zoological province!

His complaint at the large number of plates given to the illustration of pottery, tablets, &c., shows how incapable he is of appreciating that part of the work which has received the highest commendation from archæologists, namely, the presenting as far as possible an exhaustive illustration of every from of vessel and variety of ornamentation. He laments the absence of a plate giving figures of the bones and shells, especially of the latter, which are stated to belong to extinct species. Had he looked at the last plate (a copper plate, by the way, and not a lithographic one, as he calls it) he would have seen every species, with one exception figured, when similar forms from the neighbouring shores could be got for comparison.

I did not feel justified in comparing shell-mound forms with similar forms from Niigata, Kobe, or Nagasaki; and the reason will be obvious to any one having the slightest familiarity with the variations that species show in widely separated localities.

[page] 562

As to figuring fragments of bones, I did all that my limited knowledge of mammalian osteology would permit in identifying the common mammals, and in giving a list of them as other writers have done in similar investigations. in which he may establish the recent nature of the deposits. I cheerfully proffer to him a large accumulation of fragments of bones in Tokio waiting to be put together!

His comparison of the Omori pottery with Banko will greatly amuse any one at all familiar with Banko, or its associate forms, Hansuki, Otagukuan, Miki, Bashodo, Tokonabe, or their imitators either ancient or modern.

His review being thus occupied with a series of misstatements, he naturally finds no room to discuss my evidences of cannibalism or platycnemic tibiæ.

Finally, his ungenerous complaint of my well-merited compliment to the Japanese printers and binders who made the pamphlet, illustrates a lamentable but too common trait of the ordinary Briton in Japan, namely that which mainfests itself in a childish delight at the failures of the Japanese and in sneers at their successes. EDWARD S. MORSE

Salem, Mass., U.S., March 25

Wallace's "Australasia"

MR. EVERETT appears surprised that he should have to make any correction in my brief account, in the above-named work, of Borneo and the Philippines, countries in which he has resided and travelled for many years. My surprise is that he has not been able to make far larger and more important corrections. Residents abroad soon acquire a mass of local information, and naturally think that what has been long familiar to themselves must be well known in England, forgetting that books on such subjects are written at long intervals, and when written rarely contain all the information up to date. I am exceedingly thankful for any additional facts or corrections for a new edition of the book, but I do not acknowledge to "errors" in the omission of facts which were not to be found in any books in English libraries at the time I wrote. I will make a few observations on the chief points in Mr. Everett's letter.

1. As to the accuracy of the maps I am not responsible, as Mr. Everett might well have supposed in a series of works issued in Mr. Stanford's name. The fact that Palawan and Mindanao are now as completely Spanish possessions as Luzon, is, I think, quite new to British readers.

2. I certainly omitted the mention of Tupaia among the Philippine mammals by an oversight. In giving a general sketch of the peculiarities of Philippine zoology I should, however, again omit Palawan from consideration, as that island is zoologically more nearly connected with Borneo. In the absence of all other information about Palawan, I took my account chiefly from Crawfurd's "Descriptive Dictionary." He mentions the frizzled hair of the natives, and deer among the wild animals; and as deer abound both in Borneo and the Philippines, their absence in Palawan requires proof rather than their presence.

3. The detailed range of the rhinoceros and wild cattle in Borneo has not yet, that I am aware, been given by any writer. My general statements, though imperfect, do not seem very far from the truth.

4. As to what Mr. Everett styles my "extraordinary statement" about the "Idaan" and "Milanow" tribes. I founded it on Mr. Spencer St. John's book. He says (vol. i. p. 396) of the Idaan—"They were a dark, sharp-featured race, intelligent-looking, and appeared in features very much like the Land Dyaks of Sarawak." While of the Milanows he says (i. p. 46) "some are clothed like Mahomedans, others like Dyaks, to which race they undoubtedly belong." As the Milanows live at the mouths of rivers, while the Idaan live inland, I cannot see the "extraordinary" character of the statement that they "correspond" to the division of Land and Sea Dyaks usually made in the Sarawak territory. This does not imply that there are no difference of language, customs, &c., but rather that there are such differences; but if there are radical physical differences they were evidently not known to Mr. St. John, whose long residence in Borneo and great opportunities for acquiring information entitle him to be considered an authority.

It will be seen that Mr. Everett's new matter is very scanty, and I should not have thought it worth while to do anything more than make use of it, were not his letter written in a somewhat critical spirit, which I think he would not have adopted had he known the great difficulty of obtaining accurate information on the innumerable subjects that have to be treated in a book of so wide a scope as "Australasia," and dealing with countries which have been as yet imperfectly described. Like some other critics, too, he forgets that general statements for popular information, which must be comprised within a few lines, cannot always be made strictly accurate without becoming vague, and thus ceasing to convey any definite ideas.



1 Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925), American invertebrate zoologist who worked for a time in Japan.

2 Written by Frederick Victor Dickins (1838-1915), physician and plant collector who collected plants in Japan. Dickins 1880.

3 Morse 1879.

4 Flattened shin-bones, believed to be a characteristic of early humans.

5 The Darwin-Morse letter to Nature instigated a series of further letters in Nature and The American naturalist. See Morse 1880.

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